12 posts categorized "Music"

December 21, 2012

Bach: the Design Thinker

Bach music

As a teenager I loved playing Bach on the piano, an instrument that for most of my playing time I was maybe less than loving about. It was all about first of all learning the rudiments, then adding in what you felt about it, then bringing the parts together into a whole that always felt greater than the sum of those elements I'd practiced in bar-by-bar, note-by-note detail. Today, I still play music - percussion - and it's the same process, I guess, that I describe in Bach: learn the rudiments well, pull them together bit by bit, then unleash the whole to see what it sounds like together with the band.

This process is not dissimilar to design thinking, the way of structuring one's thinking so as not to miss out on a potentially epic idea or solution to a problem that we've been harnessing across the schools with whom we work. Rebecca Cochran has taken Bach's music and composing style to reveal how in composing these he, too, was following many of the design thinking processes and habits of mind. In her blog post she explains each one in greater detail:

  • Bach combined the analytical with the intuitive.
  • Bach employed iterative prototyping.
  • Bach took inspiration from a broad range of experiences and cultures.
  • Bach co-created with others.
  • Bach regularly embraced constraint as a source of creativity.
  • Bach wrote music for the people. 

Hat tip on this, I think, is Tom. Pic from Magnuscanis.

August 30, 2012

Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz


I'm paraphrasing somewhat, but this is a fascinating interview from jazz musician and management professor Frank Barrett, on a key design thinking skill, where problem solving alone is not sufficient.

A certain creative mindset with a distinct process that a team can use to hit its groove and make new discoveries is at the core of jazz, and it's at the core to the way of thinking that we've been working hard on with design thinking in schools. Likewise, the jazz musicians' practice of dislodging their routines in order not to fall into clichés is core to the design thinking process: the process of 'playing' remains the same, but the mindset we learn helps us see the same things we've seen before in a new light, time and time again:

 "Improvisational mindset means that you have to leap in and take action, to say "yes". "Yes" is a mindset of affirmative confidence. You can't stop and problem solve. Problem solving is just not sufficient. If you're just in a problem-solving mindset your imagination is going to be shrunk. Comedy improvisors have an obligation to build on someone else's gag with "yes, and…". The same is true in jazz. You don't stop and analyse, criticise what you've heard. You jump on it and build."

As a jazz drummer through most of my youth (and still, on headphones and my Roland, in my office ;-) this podcast reminds me of all the leadership and team thinking lessons that I learned back then: comping to make the soloist sound great, that sense of "ubuntu", where I can't sound good unless my buddy sounds good, that constant listening to others in order to build on what they started...

Other leadership lessons have been summed up beautifully by musicians in these clips. My favourite, and one that I often pillage at the closing of a workshop or talk, is Itay Talgam's set of metaphors of conductors and leadership:

Stefon Harris talks about how, in jazz, there are never mistakes unless you as a band don't build on each other's playing:

And Benjamin Zander talks about how to lead people to love music (or learning, or anything...)

Thanks to my Detroit buddy Jordy for sending me the link to this podcast.

(Original photo http://www.flickr.com/photos/edublogger/2705855811/)

June 15, 2012

will.i.am: Music as Medicine

The computer is my instrument. I play it. will.i.am

On one of my bored 38,000 feet periods I discovered a documentary about Creative Visionaries, and will.i.am was on. The guy's a superstar, a creative superstar for me for lots of reasons. I love this song that isn't released yet: Mona Lisa Smile. I like his way of thinking about music, about fashion, about life. I like his hero's journey (go and find out about it). As a drummer, I love the way he talks about rythmn and he does so here in his one piece of music thus far not to have drums.

"My instrument is the computer. I'm looking at this glowing screen. I'm looking at light. Think about it. I stay in the studio 12 hours a day, staring at the light, designing it, shaping it... I affect the lives of millions of people. That's crazy".

Crazy, but not uncommon. Glowing rectangles have so much to answer for. Getting to the point where you see the glowing rectangle as your instrument, and then combining it with real, 'analogue' instruments in an orchestra that "symbolises... human collaboration", this is the balance that we should always seek with technology. Treating it as an artform amongst many artforms interests me.

"I'm not taking ritalin. I'm taking music."

February 08, 2012

Do you teach from the bandstand?

Do you have a plan that you stick with, no matter what? Do you have a plan at all? Do you have a plan that you're prepared to give up totally when a student proposes something, anything, interesting? Are you patient, listening to what's going on, allowing yourself to be pulled, and slick enough (skilled enough?) to react and create something magical out of your box to make a lesson sing?

When we're working with our Design Thinking Schools the main challenge that comes up, at the beginning at least, is the desire of educators to forward plan to the extent that improvisations - or mistakes - can't be seized upon to create something much better than the plan the teacher had written, and probably stayed up until 11pm on Sunday night writing.

Stefon Harris explains in his TED Talk how this over reliance on the plan is, in jazz, a form of musical bullying. As someone who, in his early twenties, almost gave it all up to be a big band drummer, I know exactly what he means, and I know how it feels when 17 other musicians move their plan to accommodate for another's idea.

But I can also picture it in the classroom, where a "gift" is offered up by a students' question (or a student's lack of understanding) but isn't built upon by the teacher. Who or what are you going to allow to improvise and shift your plan today?

November 27, 2011

Some Perspectives on Hip Hop for Formative Assessment & Learning

Walking back from dinner in Brisbane last week, Tom and I spotted something brilliant: mistakes. Lots of them.

A group of a half dozen streetdancers were practicing the hard stuff, and it's the part of streetdance that we never see. To get really good at something, you have to practice the hard stuff, not just rejoice in the cool, do-able, 'easy' parts. You have to prepared for a fall, and for your friends laughing at your expense!

Tom had the (Dutch?) courage to go and start asking some questions while I set up the tripod, and Paul, leader of the crew, came over for a chat that he allowed us to record. In it he reveals just how much hip hop practice is a genuinely superb example of formative assessment in action. I don't think he had read Dylan Wiliam's Inside the Black Box, but he might as well have done. Here, you can see talented dancers somewhat hiding away in the dark of a vestibule, practicing the bits they don't want anyone to see. It's a great example of where not having an audience is incredibly important, or at least, only having an audience that one can trust.

You can listen to the interview for yourself, but listen out for these key points:

  • We have the same foundations, it's like the same language to describe what we're doing, and we build on it.
  • If I like what I see then I wouldn't do the same thing - they'd say that I had "no soul". Instead, I'll do something different that's still built on the same foundations.
  • If I see someone not spending enough time on the tricky stuff, then I'll tell them. They might try it slower, faster, higher...
  • Sometimes people "take the Mickey", and tell each other that something's bad, but generally we always try to help each other, keep it all positive.

Meanwhile, Céline Azoulay-Lewin Facebooked me the video clip of a teacher, Sam Seidel, who, with a group of demanding students in a juvenile prison, found that Hip Hop was the key passion they shared, the key mechanism not only of engagement, but in turning these young people who had been told they were at society's bottom rung into responsible leaders with something worth sharing. He asks: what can educators learn from hip hop?


He points out:

  • Aspiring visual artists realising that they didn't need a gallery to promote their work
  • The high school drop out putting his entrepreneurial hustle into action to stop selling drugs, to sell CDs out the back of his car to selling products in Macy's;
  • You don't need a huge number of resources to make a big hit - the hip hop community has a habit of turning something out of nothing, sampling others' music to make new sounds, for example;
  • We can sample and mix multiple teaching techniques, rather than thinking there's a right way to do something;
  • We can try and make a "hot beat for today" - yesterday's way of teaching is yesterday's way of teaching - what can we do to recycle, remix and try something fresh in the hope that it's better than what went before?
  • What refuse could we be dancing on? What is the cutback or the 'trash' of yesterday that can feed innovation today?


March 21, 2010

Piano Improv with Chatroulette

In a break for our normal service (and any chance of getting real work done this Sunday morning) I bring you Piano Improv on Chatroulette. There's a wee bit of naughty language but, contrary to most of my own Chatroulette experiences, no rude body parts. You will laugh, maybe even be amazed by a guy with some talent and free time on his hands. I'm not going to suggest that music classrooms around the world start using Chatroulette for edyoocashun, but we can giggle a little at the curricular move that might have been...

Update: After a particularly productive morning I've discovered that the talented guy with piano and some time either is Ben from Ben Folds Five, or a good lookalike. The real Ben Folds has since responded to the User Generated inspiration and thus reinvented U2's penchant for the ritual phone call to Presidents and Prime Minsters: he now Chatroulettes with random members of the public during his 2000-seater concerts, creating witty and nsfw songs for them. Brilliant. And that means I've discovered the party piece we'll force Derek Robertson to do at Games-Based Learning in a fortnight.

February 02, 2010

Spotify for Desert Island Discs

Desert Island
A lovely, simple idea that combines music and language arts, while introducing new generations to the institution of British radio that started in 1942: Desert Island Discs.

Spotify, if you've not banned it in your schools, provides a legal means to look up almost any song you want and play it, immediately. In an age where young people can't do much without having older generations complain about it - not least listen to the music they want to - this would be an interesting way to get under their musical skin, and find out what eight discs (or rather, MP3s) they would take to a desert island with them. Get them to write down their motivations, but then, in a good old fashioned display of classroom presentation, students can interview each other without a script about their choices and listen to the music critically as a group.

Classroom activity or dinner party distraction? The choice is yours. As ever, let me know how it turns out.

Pic from Mrs Enil

January 19, 2010

The new internet block in education: Financial Filtering

Oxford University

Oxford University has banned Spotify, the legal music-sharing service currently available across Europe. The reason? It uses up too much bandwidth. I've been in a few clients' establishments where this is also true, whether the bandwidth-hungry service be well-known and seen as 'legitimate' (e.g. BBC iPlayer) or little known and misunderstood (e.g. Spotify).

When we're building national internet infrastructures, as we have done in the UK and which are emerging at great speed in New Zealand, India and China, we can underestimate by some distance what is going to be required by generations not too much in the future. In 2005, 100mbps for a 1000-student secondary school seemed lightning fast, given that we had been struggling on 10mbps until then. However, in an age where most new content is available, first and foremost, in high quality HD, this "high" speed feels like a snail's pace, especially when any more than 20 of those 1000 students is using such a service.

What's the answer? Invest more than we can afford now on the understanding that it will pay off by the time it's installed? See internet infrastructure as a genuine investment, like motorways and skyscrapers, rather than just a spend that has to be made?

December 13, 2009

Yann Thiersen Plays "Amélie" on Six iPhones

Yann Thiersen composed the music to one of my favourite French films, Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain. In the video clip above he plays the Comptine D'Un Autre Eté: L'après-midi on six iPhones. Bluetooth-iPhone-App-tastic.

September 05, 2005

Pour les podcasteurs

For kids making their own podcasts (or French teachers for that matter) try using these great sites to get hold of music to liven things up. All the music is Creative Commons Licence", which means you can use it without having to pay royalties.

From France, Belgium and Germany specifically, go to Jamendo (thanks Julien).

Any other Francophone or other foreign podsafe music providers out there?

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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